The Gagosian Gallery Brittania Street London, presents an exhibition of Richard Serra’s latest works; filling the gallery with all of the artist’s usual magisterial weight. This is in fact Richard Serra’s first show of sculpture in London since 2008; an ensemble of four works, each very different to the last – with a room devoted to each – is a heavy proposition both metaphorical and actual when walking between the artist’s colossal structures.
The show arrives in timely fashion for Frieze Week, Serra’s exhibition of ‘Backdoor Pipeline’, ‘Ramble’, ‘Dead Load’, and ‘London Cross’ is a true spectacle of the artist’s expertise with mass, volume and the materiality of form. Serra’s quartet of metal work residing in the gallery weighs a total of 230 tonnes. In fact the works demanded the demolition then reconstruction of most of Gagosian’s walls, and during the installation, the exhibition caused the closure of Britannia Street for an entire fortnight.
Serra’s art, is created by mostly using forged and rolled steel, Each work in the artist’s oeuvre demands different things of the viewer. They are always works to ponder, to cower beneath, to walk through, or inside, often simultaneously with the exclusion of sculpture, and the inclusion of installation; the viewer is seduced yet threatened. The works ground us in the hefty physicality of the world.
The first work in the exhibition ‘London Cross’,spans a single room from corner-to-corner on two levels with two monster slabs that are 12 metres in length and created from weatherproof steel placed one on top of the other and aligned to make a cross that simultaneously bisects the space and appear to support it. Yet the upper slab, reaching the roof of the gallery, the giant metal monolith is not attached to the ceiling or walls but seems to balance by resting entirely on its intersecting point. The work is at once monumental in weight, disconcerting, precarious, and as light as a feather.
‘Ramble’ consists of two dozen upright steel blocks of varying widths within one room; the viewer must weave through the labyrinthine collection of forms; each standing at roughly human height, and are arranged to form a geometric maze. These forms are like adamantine tombstones. As with all of Serra’s incredible works; the seeming simplicity of objects belies the sophisticated handling of space, mass, form, volume, and material – a sheer mass that the viewer can actually feel as if a palpable threat. Walking between the forms the viewer can see beautiful Richter-esque oxidised surfaces of orange rust; patterns in the steel like ‘immovable abstracts’.
The artist’s “Dead Load” is a sarcophagus-like sculpture weighing some 50-tonnes and consisting of a pair of rectangular boxes of forged steel; the upper of which pins the lower. both objects have contrasting surfaces – one was left outside to acquire a weathered patina. The work is like entering an impenetrable burial chamber for the death of the Modernist object – as usual; but with no less effect, the very gravity of Serra’s work is ever present.
‘Backdoor Pipeline’, in the final work in this exhibition and is a curving tunnel, approximately 50 feet long, each end has an arch-like entrance invisible to the other. Serra describes the geometry of the convex and concave curves as a doughnut. The inside is a doughnut with a reverse curve and the outside is a section of a sphere, which took three years to build and around 60 people to put it together.
The viewer is able to walk through the inside of Serra’s massive work like Jonah being devoured. To walk inside such a mass; with that ever-present pull of Serra-esque gravity is rather akin to some sort of spiritual experience – and I confess to being annoyed when my isolation inside the gargantuan beast was stolen by the intrusion of others – such is the gravitas of being inside a Serra.
Serra remains utterly uncompromising as a sculptor; the minimalist austerity of the artist’s work is broken by the abstract patina of oxidisation and the other natural processes of Serra’s surfaces. The artist’s sculptures have a form of physical presence akin to a new source of gravity; they are a signifier of the very weight of ‘everything’ and the insignificance of man; like celestial objects of unfathomable heaviness they loom and curve away. You can feel the density of material; utterly immovable yet reverberating with universal physicality. Serra remains solid. Unquestionable.
Richard Serra – BACKDOOR PIPELINE, RAMBLE, DEAD LOAD, LONDON CROSS – Gagosian Gallery, Britannia Street, London – until February 28 2015
Words: Paul Black © Artlyst 2014 Photo courtesy of Gagosian Gallery all rights reserved